"Dogmatic" is a word that has a derogatory connotation in the English language today, referring to fixed and unbending ideas and attitudes that are difficult for listeners to reconcile with their own understanding of what exists and what constitutes appropriate behavior. The word "dogmatism" has a similar derogatory connotation. I feel that what's behind these connotations is a healthy attempt to throw off authoritarian influences that are without substance or respect, and to bypass or dismantle closed systems that do not invite examination and dialogue.
However, the word "dogma" just means teaching(s), usually religious teaching. While religious ideas can be enforced on others, and have been used on occasion to dominate entire cultures, there is nothing about a religious idea or teaching - a religious proposition or assertion - that is necessarily forceful or dominating in itself. Rather, any enforcement or domination is a function of how individuals may choose to apply or wield the ideas in relationship to other individuals. It is entirely possible to offer a teaching to others for their consideration and invite them to study it deeply without enforcing it on them. We can assume that those offering a teaching understand it to be true and desire that others may come to the same realization; however that by itself cannot be construed as "enforcement," dogmatism," or "dogmatic approach." In other words, enforcement is an optional step, and is not a necessary element in setting forth a teaching. While one might counter that there is an implied enforcement in any assertion, I find this a stretch of imagination. Anyone who says enforcement is a necessary element of setting forth a teaching may want to look at his own history of resentment against past enforcements or perceived enforcements, or where he himself may have enforced something on another person or group, or even enforced something onto himself.
To propose a worldview that is undogmatic - aside from the problem of that assertion being itself dogmatic - "The Dogma of No-Dogma," which is no small problem here - leaves us open to a contentless or content-free philosophy, or one where every man's opinion is construed to be as good as any other, each opinion deserving of equal "respect," with said respect being dependent on the sincerity and thoroughness with which the opinionated one arrives at his conclusions.
The above cynical, skeptical, or opinionated approches fly in the face of classical wisdom. Cynicism says we can't know, skepticism says we can't be certain, and diverse opinion seen as truth is charitably "democratic" beyond the spirit of nearly any epistemology. In the Myth of the Line (REPUBLIC 510-511), Plato differentiates kinds of knowledge on a gradient scale, the lowest being sense perception, next up is opinion or conviction (_doxa_), then understanding, and finally reason. Now "reason" for Plato includes much more than what modern man would mean by the term. Plato includes in reason the intuitive grasp (_noesis_) of first principles, saying that it is a task that is really tremendous "to soar beyond hypotheses to the first principle of the whole, and descend without the aid of any sensible objects, from ideas, through ideas, and in ideas she ends."
While each man may have his opinion of reality, it is the same one and only reality of WHAT IS, that each man attempts to perceive, know, and describe. While we may indeed respect every man's efforts to arrive at his conclusions and opinions, just as we like to be acknowledged for our own efforts, I suggest that we be dissatisfied with opinion only, and strive to go beyond opinion (doxa) into the realm of the intelligible, toward the truth of WHAT IS that all men seek.
At the same time, individuals may choose to trace the ethical guidelines they use in secular life back to religious sources for a more complete understanding that transforms their way of being in the world and deeply informs their future ethical considerations.
As for universal values, today's corporate ethics statements, plus the values and virtues common to the major world religions, are self-evident to nearly anyone who reads them. However the difficulty as I see it is not in the articulation of universal values, but in the just and splendid interpretation of these values in particular-case situations. There we see many understandings and interpretations, many rationalizations and justifications, many attempts to grapple with the very real issues and dilemmas of applied ethics. The process of ethics is not just a matter of opinion, but is ultimately a question of 1) discerning and naming what kind of matter is at hand, 2) _how_ to best bring universal values to bear on a particular-case situation in a way that satisfies the deepest ethical intuitions of those involved and edifies them in the process, and 3) the dialogue around discernment, naming, and application.
C.B. Willis, MA EXECUTIVE INQUIRY Sunnyvale CA June 5, 1998 --------------------------------------------------------------------- | email@example.com | "Values are the infrastructure | | | upon which civilization | | | will be reinvented." - CBW | ---------------------------------------------------------------------